Don Johnson: six reasons why people reject Christianity

Here’s a post on practical evangelism by Christian scholar Don Johnson.

His list of reasons why people often reject Christianity:

  1. Christians behaving badly
  2. Disappointment with God
  3. Weak or absent father
  4. Social pressure
  5. Cost of discipleship
  6. Immorality (especially sexual immorality)

And here’s the detail on #6:

Of all the motivations and reasons for skepticism that I encounter, immorality is easily the most common. In particular, sexual sin seems to be the largest single factor driving disbelief in our culture. Brant Hanson calls sex “The Big But” because he so often hears this from unbelievers: “’I like Jesus, BUT…’ and the ‘but’ is usually followed, one way or the other, with an objection about the Bible and… sex. People think something’s deeply messed-up with a belief system that says two consenting, unmarried adults should refrain from sex.” In other words, people simply do not want to follow the Christian teaching that sexual intercourse should take place only between and man and woman who are married, so they throw the whole religion out.

The easiest way to justify sin is to deny that there is a creator to provide reality with a nature, thereby denying that there is any inherent order and purpose in the universe.

Aldous Huxley admitted that this is a common reason for skepticism:

I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently I assumed that it had none and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption…. Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless. …

For myself as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was …liberation from … a certain system of morality.  We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom…. There was one admirably simple method in our political and erotic revolt: We could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever. Similar tactics had been adopted during the eighteenth century and for the same reasons. (Ends and Means, 270-273)

Indeed, similar tactics have been used extensively up to the present day. If you are looking for two great resources that document the extent to which the work of the world’s “great” atheistic thinkers has been “calculated to justify or minimize the shame of their own debauchery,” (Spiegel, 72) I recommend Intellectuals by Paul Johnson and Degenerate Moderns: Modernity as Rationalized Sexual Misbehavior by E. Michael Jones. The bottom line is that these skeptical scholars didn’t reach their conclusions by following the evidence where it led. They didn’t “discover” that the world was meaningless and then proceed to live accordingly. They lived sinful lives (usually involving some type of sexual deviancy) and then produced theories that justified their actions.

It’s important to understand that an atheist is not identical to a Christian, except not religious. There is something else going on in their minds when they reject very obvious evidences like the origin of the universe, the cosmic fine-tuning, the origin of life, the Cambrian explosion, the habitability arguments, etc. The something else that is going on is hinted at when you look at atheist attitudes to abortion. According to a recent survey of atheists, 97% of them were pro-abortion!

What kind of person likes abortion? The kind of person who wants to be sexually active with no consequences, even if it means taking someone else’s life. The desire to do as they please and retreat from obligations to others is the key. Now dispensing with God and his obligations is not an unreasonable view if there is no evidence for God, but it does provide a motive for people to not look for that evidence if happiness is their main goal. When I discuss these issues with atheists, I find that no work has been done to read anything. Not even debates, where there are two sides. They don’t want to hear the case for Christian theism, and they work hard to avoid stumbling across it by accident, too.

God and the cosmic authority problem

Tough Questions Answered has a quote from Christian philosopher Paul Moser that I think is relevant:

It would be a strange, defective God who didn’t pose a serious cosmic authority problem for humans.  Part of the status of being God, after all, is that God has a unique authority, or lordship, over humans.  Since we humans aren’t God, the true God would have authority over us and would seek to correct our profoundly selfish ways.

So we’re not dealing with unbiased truth-seekers here. The goal might not always be sex, but let’s be honest. Who wants to have to spend time reading the Bible, praying, going to church and reading thick books by Stephen C. Meyer, Michael Licona and Hugh Ross so that we can answer questions? No one. Who wants to give up premarital sex so that we can create a stable marriage for children so they can grow up in a safe place where knowing God is natural and easy? No one. We just don’t want to have to do stuff for God, even if it’s good stuff. We don’t want to have build a life that is a testament to God’s existence and character, especially if it means that other people will think that we are weird and maybe even a bit mean. We want to do what we want to do instead, and be liked by other people.

That’s the real challenge of Christianity: setting aside what you wanted to do, and letting God be your customer, instead. You’d be surprised how many Christians aren’t comfortable with the idea of serving God and being viewed in a bad way by non-Christians. They aren’t OK with the self-sacrifice, and they are really not OK with the social disapproval. It’s hard to be chaste, and to be known to be chaste by your peers, for example. Much easier to just give in and do what everyone else is doing.

Let’s illustrate with C.S. Lewis

And here’s a relevant quote from C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” to illustrate:

You must have often wondered why the enemy [God] does not make more use of his power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree he chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the irresistible and the indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of his scheme forbids him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as his felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For his ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve…. Sooner or later he withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish…. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away his hand…. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.

— Uncle Screwtape, in The Screwtape Letters

I’m not a big fan of Lewis, but I think he is onto something there. That’s really what the Christian life is like, and no wonder more people don’t choose it. Who wants to do your duty for God, as part of a relationship with him, in a universe that seems so unfair? It’s a tall order, and most people prefer to do their own thing instead of building something nice for God with their lives.

9 thoughts on “Don Johnson: six reasons why people reject Christianity”

  1. Perfect – thanks for posting! But, you left out the related Chesterton quotes:

    “It is still bad taste to be an avowed atheist. But now it is equally bad taste to be an avowed Christian.”

    “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

    “I say that a man must be certain of his morality for the simple reason that he has to suffer for it.”

    “Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.”

    “The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”

    You started it with your Lewis quote. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. But they ARE inspirational – especially when one considers they were written 100+ years ago. :-)

        We are gonna get you in touch with your Chesterton side – for the sake of your love life anyway. :-)

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  2. What about the idea that religion conflicts with science? Could this be a seventh reason for people to reject Christianity?

    Regardless of whether there really is a conflict, the atheists seem to think there is, and that could be their reason for rejecting Christ.

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    1. I would say that, in our culture, people are TAUGHT that Christianity conflicts with science. This is swallowed whole, is nothing more than an assertion, and is contradicted by many of the best scientists of the scientific revolution.

      In my case, I was immersed in the “knowledge” that the “Cosmos is all there ever was…,” that the Bible is a book of fairy tales and the fact that it was written long ago by silly men excluded it from serious intellectual investigation, that only science could discern truth, and that, because so many Christians behaved badly, Christianity could not be true. This is what the “smart” people said and continue to say in our culture. Not once did I even consider that these assertions were unsupported (and, in some cases, unsupportable), self-refuting, and / or hypocritical to the highest extreme. These examples fall primarily in categories 1 and 4 above.

      But, I DO think that there is another reason, not in the list above, that people reject Christianity: it is FAR easier to rest in unsupportable a-theistic assumptions than it is to put the hard work in to see if Christianity (or any other worldview) might actually be true. I was already working very hard on my career and several technical degrees. Who has the time to study the philosophy of science, cosmology, historical forensics, evidential philosophy and apologetics (from either the Christian or a-theistic viewpoint), worldviews, the Bible (using proper hermeneutics, of course, not just attacking a straw man), etc, while simultaneously providing positive evidences for my a-theism which might make it even remotely plausible, when I could just sit back, sin at large, read silly popular books by people who claimed that the universe created itself, and take Carl Sagan’s word for it?!? In short, it was too much work and I had absolutely no incentives – when all that was going to happen if I changed over was to have my “fun” life curtailed!

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    2. What about the idea that religion conflicts with science? Could this be a seventh reason for people to reject Christianity?

      It’s a good thought, John, but the thing is that this is almost never the REAL reason behind unbelief. We need to be discerning understanders of human psychology and realize that there is often a difference between someone’s stated reason for something and their *real* reason. We see this all the time with former Christians: “Well, I’ve just come to believe that there’s a lot of evidence against the accuracy of the bible,” – they say this conspicuously *after* they’ve become sexually active with their girlfriend or boyfriend.

      Johnson’s list, and the entire post, sums up the issue well.

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  3. C.S. Lewis’s work are the coloring books of Christian theology; there’s nothing better for children in the faith.

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